I was chatting with a friend in Germany via Skype the other night and he reminded me of a company called AHATA Tactics, which used to punt a CD collection study kit designed to help students (or anyone really) to improve their concentration, sleep and subconscious-activation using sound. The disc I have lying around is ‘Helicopter Vision’, which I haven’t used in my personal capacity, but understand that the recordings were done by attaching microphones to each ear of the sound recordist to get an accurate simulation.
Right now, while typing this… I’m listening to The Smashing Pumpkins, a rock band who reached the height of their fame on the back of the grunge era in the ’90s. Billy Corgan, the frontman, is a music genius… who tested very well when it came to music as a child. His parents decided that he wouldn’t pursue that level of musicianship. Bowing to the whim of inevitability, he started honing his own talents, gifting us with a full-fledged career in one of my favourite music genres.
Having grown up in their heyday, I’ve been a devoted fan ever since I heard the drum roll to Cherub Rock off their near-perfect album, Siamese Dream. What I think David Lynch appreciates about Corgan’s music is its surreal quality, which is a direct match for the moody dreamscapes he composes. For his film, Lost Highway, he asked Corgan to compose a track to be the musical equivalent of snakes crawling out of a box on an open road.
The visual is enticing and while Corgan may have taken some inspiration from this reference, he opted to reinvent a track that originally had been a backing track for some work with basketball star, Shaquille o’Neal. After he was approached by Trent Reznor and David Lynch to work on the Lost Highway soundtrack, he created one of the Pumpkins’ most ethereal electronic arrangements. The track probably has more similarities with Story of the Eye by George Batailles , which inspired the Venus as a Boy music video by Björk.
David Lynch is a keen musician himself, which was probably a natural off-shoot when you consider how important sound is in his films. I literally took music from Twin Peaks and set it against some old footage of people mowing lawns and whatchaknow, Lynchland. Lost Highway inspired Lynch to work with Reznor, they both decided to get Corgan on-board, who was originally inspired by an opportunity to work with O’Neal. As if there wasn’t enough inspiration and spin-off, the Smashing Pumpkins track Eye inspired me to create a “music video” (below). It’s a real rabbit hole but the point is that you can allow music to take you places and inspire you.
What I love about The Smashing Pumpkins, yes I’m probably biased, is that their music is timeless, poetic and layered. I can listen to an album again and again without getting tired of the sound. For instance, listening to their Oceania album now… there was a season where it stayed in my car’s CD shuttle for months. There’s so much going on that by focusing on different elements, the ear never gets tired. Corgan’s unmistakable vocals, buzzing guitars and ethereal tones… he paints with sound and it’s always a trip!
Using familiar music helps you focus on the task at hand without getting swept away by the aural stimulation of new sounds or words. I’d suggest familiarising yourself with music if it has lyrics and then using it to leverage different moods or feelings in your writing. There’s not all that much research on the subject at this point, but through experience I’ve found it can inspire and energise. Perhaps it’s Corgan’s creativity that is shining through. The Smashing Pumpkins are responsible for a double album of music that went quadruple-platinum, so maybe it’s a subtle reminder that you too can reach for the stars as they did with Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness and touch them.
The band have a music legacy that could cover several legendary rock bands with a wide array of albums over the last few decades. Through their deluxe re-releases you can see the underside of the iceberg and while some of the tracks show promise, it just serves as a healthy reminder of the hard work, rich potential and deluge of creativity and inspiration that’s involved in getting the job done.